Now online: Hearthstone Historic House Museum

Fireplace at Hearthstone

Fireplace in Hearthstone parlor, with mantel carved by William Van Strattum and tiles painted by Frederika Crane.

Seven catalog entries for objects from Hearthstone Historic House Museum in Appleton are now online in the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database. Built on a bluff overlooking the Fox River in 1881, Hearthstone’s primary claim to fame is that it was the first home in the world lit by hydroelectric power.

This Queen Anne-style brick home was designed by William Waters, an architect based in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Much of the interior woodwork, including the bird’s-eye maple mantelpiece shown above, was the handiwork of a young Appleton woodworker named William Van Strattum. Other works by Van Strattum at Hearthstone include two marquetry tables and an intricately carved wall pocket, which he is said to have made for his wife LuLu Lansing in 1884.

Crane's signature

Crane's signature on mantel tiles.

Noted Green Bay artist Frederika Crane painted the porcelain tiles that surround the parlor fireplace. The woman illustrated on the tiles is thought to represent Evangeline, the central figure in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1847 poem of the same name. Hearthstone also holds several more typical examples of Crane’s work in china painting, most notably a set of twelve dinner plates decorated with birds.

Detail, wall pocket, William Van Stratum

The prominent initials "LL" on this birch and oak wall pocket suggest that William Van Stratum carved the work as a gift for his future wife, LuLu Lansing.

The collections documented at Hearthstone complement two other collections in the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database: china painting by Frederika Crane from the Brown County Historical Society in Green Bay and other examples of Appleton’s late 19th century material culture from the History Museum at the Castle.

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer

A quick stop in Cameron

A heavily ornamented chest of drawers made in Norway and brought to Barron County by 19th century Norwegian immigrants.

In July, I spent two of the hottest days of the summer in the northwest part of the state.  My ultimate destination was the Stone Lake Area Historical Society, where I trained volunteers in scanning, photography, and cataloging to get them started on building a digital collection for Wisconsin Heritage Online. On the way to Stone Lake, I made a detour to the New Richmond Heritage Center to look at their decorative arts collection (items from that visit will be online soon). Between New Richmond and Stone Lake I stopped at the Pioneer Village Museum, operated by the Barron County Historical Society in Cameron.

An exhibition case of beadwork and other crafts made by Susie Cadotte, Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe.

It was late in the afternoon by the time I got to Cameron, but museum director Caroline Olson met me at the gate and gave me a whirlwind tour of the museum complex–37 buildings including exhibit halls, a church, and several log dwellings and commercial buildings that have been moved to the site. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to do my usual full object documentation, but I took lots of snapshots of interesting artifacts, both Wisconsin-made and not.

Andrew Peterson of Poskin, Wisconsin built the Ebenezer Lutheran Church in 1908 as well as the pulpit, altar, altar rail and pews. The church and most of its interior fittings were moved to the museum in 1972.

This chair, in the style of a traditional Norwegian kubbestol, is considered the literal county seat of Barron County. The museum label tells the story of the chair's role in the establishment of the community of Barron as the seat of county government: "This chair is known as the County Seat because it was within its seat that in 1874, County Clerk Woodbury S. Grover packed the meager records of this young county and on a cold winter night walked from Rice Lake to Barron, depositing them with John Quaderer, who owned the Quaderer House Hotel."

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer

Now online: Upham Mansion, Marshfield

The Upham Manufacturing Company figured prominently in Marshfield's economy and landscape. Detail, bird's-eye view of Marshfield, 1891. Wisconsin Historical Society map collection WHi-12477.

Fourteen catalog entries for objects from the North Wood County Historical Society in Marshfield are now online in the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database, including several examples of furniture produced by the Upham Manufacturing Company. Many of these pieces, including an extensive painted bedroom suite ornamented with resin moldings, were used by the Upham family and remain on view at the Upham Mansion, now an historic house museum operated by the NWCHS.

Detail of writing table on view in master bedroom, Upham Mansion, Marshfield.

The Upham name is central to the history of Marshfield. William Henry Upham came to Wisconsin from Westminster, Massachusetts in 1853. After serving in the Civil War and training at West Point, he settled permanently in the fledgling community of Marshfield in 1879, where he established a sawmill, furniture factory, general store, and the first local bank. In 1894, he was elected the 18th governor of Wisconsin. Upham’s role in the development of Marshfield is lauded in the Commemorative Biographical Record of the Upper Wisconsin Counties of Waupaca, Portage, Wood, Marathon, Lincoln, Oneida, Vilas, Langlade and Shawano (1898): “The citizens of to-day claim that Marshfield owes everything to Gov. Upham’s indomitable will power, enterprise and public-spiritedness, and that he may truthfully be called the founder of the town.”

Detail, "Chimes of Normandy" fretwork clock case, Fred Thuss, probably early 20th c.

The Upham Mansion is also home to many artifacts and archives from the broader community. One of the most intriguing examples of handicraft in the collection is an intricate fretwork clock case attributed to local resident Fred Thuss. The clock was created from a commercially published pattern known as “Chimes of Normandy.” The use of a scroll saw or jigsaw to create elaborate fretwork ornament for shelves, clocks, and picture frames was a popular pastime for both men and women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the Chimes of Normandy pattern appears to have been particularly popular among hobbyists. Not long after my visit to Marshfield, I found an identical clock in the collection of the Sheboygan County Historical Society. A Google search reveals that the pattern is still on the market today. The best-known version of the Chimes of Normandy is now in the collection of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York. In 1937, a young woman in Texas named Ernestine Guerrero used wood from federal food aid boxes her family received during the Depression to create a unique thank-you gift for President Roosevelt.

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer

Now online: Pittsville Area Historical Society

Canoe with flower frog in cobalt blue drip over orange "peachskin" glaze. Collection of the Pittsville Area Historical Society.

The latest addition to the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database comes from the Pittsville Area Historical Society in central Wisconsin. In addition to a handmade guitar attributed to early Pittsville settler DeWitt C. Smith, the new content includes 30 objects selected from the more than 170 examples of Pittsville Pottery gifted to the Society by local resident and avid Pittsville Pottery collector Ed Arnold (1930-2008).

The Wisconsin Ceramic Corporation, better known as Pittsville Pottery, was established in 1931 by Father John Willitzer (1874-1946), a Catholic priest who wanted to provide work for local residents during the Great Depression. The pottery, which produced tiles and flowerpots from local red earthenware clay, struggled to stay in business and shut its doors in 1936. In 1938, it reopened under the direction of James Wilkins, a potter from Bristol, England who served as foreman of the art pottery department at Indiana’s Muncie Clay Products, and his son William Wilkins, a ceramic technician. Production under the Wilkinses centered on art pottery and promotional novelties for local businesses and included many of the shapes and glazes James Wilkins first developed for the Muncie pottery, including the mottled “peachskin” glaze of the canoe shown above.

Pair of vases with nudes in rose and aqua matte glaze. Collection of the Pittsville Area Historical Society.

A March 31, 2001 article from the Marshfield News-Herald (reproduced on the Wisconsin Pottery Association’s website) includes comments from Norman Tritz and Dorothy Faust, area residents who worked in the pottery. They recalled that working in the factory was peaceful, but it didn’t pay a lot–workers earned 35 cents an hour and a vase sold for around $6.50. Tritz also said that Willitzer did not approve of the “nude art” that was produced at the factory (such as the pair of vases shown above), but he never mentioned it.

Octagonal sugar bowl and creamer. The pitcher's "dripless spout," patented in 1933, appears in many Pittsville Pottery products. Collection of the Pittsville Area Historical Society.

After the Wilkinses left the pottery in 1941, quality suffered, and the company closed by 1943.

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer

Midwest Antiques Forum

Earlier this month I headed to Lancaster, Ohio to participate in the first-ever Midwest Antiques Forum, a new annual event intended to “encourage and support scholarship of the understudied area of Midwestern decorative arts and material culture.” I was thrilled to represent Wisconsin in this important gathering of scholars, curators, collectors and dealers from throughout the region and beyond.

The forum was the brainchild of Midwest decorative arts power couple Hollie Davis and Andrew Richmond. Hollie is senior editor at and Andrew is  vice-president at Garth’s Auctions. Andrew also served as curator for the exhibition Equal in Goodness: Ohio Decorative Arts 1788-1860, on view at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio through June 5.

The exhibit emphasizes the wide variety and high level of craftsmanship of the material goods produced in Ohio from the earliest days of settlement through the mid-nineteenth century. The forum presentations widened this thesis to the Midwest as a whole, highlighting the surprising breadth and range of decorative arts to be found throughout the region.

Aside from getting to see so many amazing objects, the most exciting part of the weekend for me was the chance to be a part of a community of people dedicated to the decorative arts of the Midwest. I think it’s easy for many of us in this far-flung region to feel like we’re toiling away in our own separate corners of the world, so the opportunity to come together with like-minded people was truly inspiring.

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer

Lots of updates

In the past few months, I’ve taken the time to revisit some earlier database entries and update them with expanded historical information, including links to historic photos and biographical sketches found in other digital collections from Wisconsin libraries and historical societies. This list is a recap of recent updates.

The Blair and Persons building at 534 N. Water Street in Milwaukee. From Milwaukee Public Library.

Ironstone transferware pottery produced in Staffordshire and imported to Milwaukee and Madison (from a private collection). The majority of these examples were manufactured by Joseph Clementson of Stoke-on-Trent and imported to Milwaukee by crockery and glassware dealer Franklin J. Blair. Born in Massachusetts in 1815, Blair headed west, first to Cleveland, Ohio and then in 1843 to Milwaukee. In 1856, he entered a business partnership with his shop clerk, Edmond Reed Persons.

Coin silver spoons made and/or marked by silversmiths and jewelers throughout southern Wisconsin in the 1840s-1860s (also from a private collection). It is difficult to determine whether these spoons were actually produced in Wisconsin or whether the sellers acquired blanks created elsewhere and then added engravings and their marks to sell to local customers. Silversmiths and jewelers who now have biographical information added to the database include Newell Matson, Joseph R. Treat, and Abner Kirby of Milwaukee, A. B. Van Cott of Milwaukee and Racine, Erastus Cook of Madison, Stephen C. Spaulding of Janesville, and Henry N. Sherman of Beloit. I have yet to turn up any information about R. P. Hicks of Platteville or the Milwaukee partnership of Rood, Goodrich, and Vosburg.

Jeweler and businessman Abner Kirby was elected mayor of Milwaukee in 1864. From "Biographical sketches of the mayors of the City of Milwaukee" via Milwaukee Public Library.

–Tom Wilson, a connoisseur of the work of Milwaukee blacksmith Cyril Colnik, contacted me to share some information about the Colnik collection at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, including a story from Colnik’s daughter Gretchen that her father made an unusual coconut shell box as a gift for her 12th birthday in 1906.

–While researching the collections from the Langlade County Historical Society in Antigo, I stumbled across an article from the local newspaper, dated 1933, that described a loan to the society of an “historic crucifix” attributed to Paul Ducharme, a French Canadian trader who came to the Green Bay area in 1794. The crucifix remains in the society’s collections, hanging on the wall of the DeLeglise cabin. Langlade County Historical Society president Joe Hermolin photographed it for me so I could add this important artifact to the database without making the long return trip north to Antigo.

Crazy quilt detail: possibly First Lady Catherine Harrison. Chippewa Valley Museum object #1514-0003-1997.

–The Handmade Meaning exhibit necessitated some in-depth research to find out more about the women behind the crafts we exhibited. Students from last spring’s exhibitions seminar at UW-Madison were a great help, particularly Susan Bostian Young and Breanna Norton, who both rolled up their sleeves and dug into census records and other genealogy resources. Susan contributed a great blog post examining the story behind a redwork quilt from the History Museum at the Castle in Appleton, which we were unable to include in the exhibit due to condition issues. I also recruited Lucy Traverse, a PhD candidate in the Department of Art History at UW-Madison specializing in 19th century visual culture, to help identify the figures embroidered on a crazy quilt from the Chippewa Valley Museum in Eau Claire. Lucy suggested that the blue-eyed young woman in the bottom right corner block resembled the popular singer and entertainer Lillian Russell, while the middle-aged woman depicted in profile near the lower left was likely Caroline Harrison, who, as wife of President Benjamin Harrison, would have been the First Lady around the time this quilt was made.

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.

Now online: Lace from Oneida Nation Museum

Oneida lace maker, possibly Josephine Hill Webster (1883-1978). When the teachers from the Sybil Carter Indian Lace Association left Wisconsin in 1909, Webster, a Wisconsin Oneida who had attended the Hampton Institute boarding school in Virginia, became the lace-makers' leader. Courtesy of the Oneida Nation Museum.

When I started my research for the recent Handmade Meaning exhibition at the James Watrous Gallery, I ran across a fascinating Wisconsin craft tradition I’d never known about before: lace made by Oneida women in the early 20th century. Sybil Carter, an Episcopalian missionary, introduced the art of bobbin lace to the women of the Oneida Indian Reservation near De Pere in 1898. Carter developed a piecework system in which teachers, materials, and patterns were sent to the Oneida as well as to reservations in Minnesota, New Mexico, and California. The finished products, including trim and decorative inserts as well as tablecloths and other large items, were sent to New York, where they commanded high prices and won awards at international expositions.

Bobbin lace insert. Oneida Nation Museum.

The Oneida Nation Museum has collected and preserved many examples of lace passed down in local families, although many of the largest and most intricate pieces seen in period photos have not been located. For the exhibition, we highlighted just a few examples from the Museum collection along with several original patterns, all of which are now online in the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database. The stereotypically Indian motifs in some of these works–the figures with a bow and arrow, a canoe, and a papoose–were probably not selected by the lace-makers themselves. Instead, they were likely provided by the Sybil Carter Indian Lace Association to provide an element of exotic but generic “Indianness” appealing to non-native audiences.

Pattern for bobbin lace. Oneida Nation Museum.

At the closing events for the Handmade Meaning exhibit, Nicolas Reynolds, historical researcher for the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, offered an in-depth look at the significance of other patterns and motifs found in Oneida lace. While they may appear at first glance to be typical examples of European-style bobbin lace, many of these works contain arching and branching shapes–traditional Oneida symbols of the sky dome and the tree of life.

Nic also provided an important historic context for Oneida lace-making, along with his co-presenter Nancy Marie Mithlo of the Departments of Art History and American Indian Studies at UW-Madison. In an aggressive effort by the federal government to assimilate Native people in the late 19th and early 20th century, Indian children were sent to boarding schools like the Hampton Institute in Virginia, which was attended by lace-maker Josephine Hill Webster and many other Wisconsin Oneidas.  When young people came back from boarding school, fitting in again with their families and communities was an immense challenge. Lace-making, a skill Webster and presumably others learned at boarding school, was a means for many women to earn a living without having to leave home again to seek employment elsewhere.

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.

“Indian women rival Europe in Lace Making,” Milwaukee Sentinel, October 27, 1901 (via Wisconsin Historical Society, Local History and Biography Articles).

“Vanderbilt home opened for charity; hundreds pay $2 admission to mansion and to buy lace made by Indians,” New York Times, March 22, 1912.

Kate C. Duncan, “American Indian Lace Making,” American Indian Art Magazine vol. 5, no. 3 (1980): 28-35

Nicolas Reynolds, “Oneida Lace Makers,” Cultural Heritage Department, Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin. See this article for more great sources.

Handmade Meaning exhibit a great success

The gallery's opening wall juxtaposed an assemblage by Sauk City artist Mary Dickey with a hair wreath on loan from the Mayville Historical Society.

I served as one of several curators for the exhibition Handmade Meaning: The Value of Craft in Victorian and Contemporary Culture, which closed this past weekend. This exhibit was an exciting opportunity to bring to new audiences some of the amazing fancywork treasures tucked away in collections around the state. It was also a fascinating chance to see these historic handicrafts in a new light by showing them alongside contemporary works of art in a highly modern, sleek space–the James Watrous Gallery in Madison’s Overture Center.

Like a 19th century friendship quilt, the exhibit was the work of many hands. It began with a seminar class led by Ann Smart Martin, my former advisor in the Department of Art History at UW-Madison, which she co-taught with me and Martha Glowacki, director of the James Watrous Gallery. The seminar students prepared a preliminary object list, researched the makers and drafted exhibit labels. Several continued working with me, Martha, and Ann to see the project through, particularly Andrea Miller, Andrea Truitt, Becca Keyel, Susan Bostian Young, and Breanna Norton. Other important contributors were curator and filmmaker Faythe Levine (of Handmade Nation fame), who recommended many of the contemporary artists included in the show; and scholar/curator Jody Clowes, who, in her role as Exhibitions Manager for the Watrous Gallery, coordinated the numerous loans and helped write and edit text panels and labels.

A wreath made of seeds and other natural materials, from the Dodge County Historical Society, alongside Milwaukee artist Kim Weiss's "Rat King," featuring screen-printed rats layered directly on the gallery wall.

The nineteenth- and early twentieth-century works included in the show were loaned by historical societies and museums across Wisconsin. Many of these objects have never been exhibited outside their local communities. The lenders included:

Brown County Historical Society, Green Bay
Chippewa Valley Museum, Eau Claire
Dodge County Historical Society, Beaver Dam
Marathon County Historical Society, Wausau
Mayville Historical Society
Milwaukee County Historical Society
Mt. Horeb Area Historical Society
Oconto County Historical Society
Oneida Nation Museum
Rock County Historical Society, Janesville
Anita Gurda
Bonnie and James Ziolecki

All ten of the museums and historical societies on this list are participants in the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database project, and nearly all of the historic works included in the show can also be found online in the database. When I first started the database project more than four years ago, my focus was on the major categories of decorative arts I’d studied in graduate school: furniture, pottery, and metalwork. But as I explored the collections of local historic sites and museums all over the state, I discovered a plethora of other fascinating handcrafted objects—hand-painted porcelain teacups, finely-crafted lace doilies, and intricate framed wreaths made from feathers, seeds, yarn, wax, and even human hair. Each of these delicate works had been handed down in a Wisconsin family for generations before the decision was made to donate the object to a local institution. Often, the women behind these works of art were identified only as “Mrs. John Smith” or perhaps “grandmother of the donor.” In many cases, this handiwork has become the only record that remained of these women’s lives.

The exhibit and related events are chronicled on the Handmade Meaning blog. The blog also documents the progress of the Community Embroidery Project, a participatory component of the exhibit that explicitly connects Victorian-era women’s fancywork with the current D.I.Y./indie craft movement by asking local crafters to put their own spin on a traditional craft–redwork embroidery. The article “Interior life in the public eye: ‘Handmade Meaning’ explores the domestic arts,” by Lindsay Christians of 77 Square, provided a nice overview of the show.

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer

Visit to Marshfield and Pittsville

I’ve worked on this project for more than four years and added over 1,000 artifacts to the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database, but it seems like I’ve still only scratched the surface of Wisconsin’s material past. I’m always happily surprised when I discover artifacts from a maker or manufacturer I haven’t documented before.

One of these happy occurrences came in Lake Geneva last fall at the annual statewide Local History and Historic Preservation Conference. Kim Krueger of the North Wood County Historical Society in Marshfield approached me after my presentation about Wisconsin Heritage Online. She was looking for a conservator who could help preserve a catalog from a local manufacturer. I couldn’t help much with the conservation question, but my ears perked up when I heard more about the catalog–it was from the Upham Manufacturing Company, a furniture producer in Marshfield around the turn of the 20th century. But the catalog wasn’t the only artifact from the company in the Society’s collections, Kim said. Their house museum, the Upham Mansion, still contains many of its original furnishings, including a large number of pieces made in the factory established by William Henry Upham.

I made plans to visit the Upham Mansion as soon as I could. At some point during the back-and-forth of planning emails, another serendipitous connection came up. A volunteer at the Upham Mansion, Chris Buchanan, is also the president of the Pittsville Area Historical Society, less than 20 miles south of Marshfield. Pittsville was once home to the Wisconsin Ceramics Corporation, better known as Pittsville Pottery, and the local historical society had recently received a donation of more than 100 works from the pottery assembled by a local collector. Did I want to add the pottery to the database too? Of course I did!

After spending two days in central Wisconsin last week, I now have lots of photos to process and should have the Upham furniture and Pittsville pottery–plus several other interesting artifacts–added to the database in the next several weeks.

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer

Now online: Langlade County Historical Society

Pillow sham made for Edward Drab, who served in the CCC at Elcho, Wisconsin in 1933. Embroidered slogan reads: "When we finish our part a new day will dawn." Property of Langlade County Historical Society.

The twelve artifacts I recently added to the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database from the Langlade County Historical Society in Antigo are an eclectic bunch that reveals the broad and deep histories we can discover from objects.

A group of beaded bandolier bags recently donated to the Society by a local collector does not have a specific Wisconsin provenance, but the bags’ designs and motifs show that they were made by Menominee, Ojibwe, and Ho-Chunk tribes in the Great Lakes region in the late 19th or early 20th centuries. Crafting these highly-prized elements of formal dress regalia required a substantial investment of time, materials, and skill. An exhibition of Great Lakes bandolier bags is on view at the Wisconsin Historical Museum in Madison through February 26.

A hand-knit vest and an embroidered pillow sham (above) an Antigo woman made for her brother when he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933 illustrates the pride many Americans felt when they had the opportunity to go back to work with New Deal programs like the CCC. Company 657, also known as Camp Elcho, was one of 76 CCC camps organized in Wisconsin in the 1930s. Camp workers undertook a number of public works projects including constructing roads and fire breaks, installating telephone lines, planting trees, and fighting forest fires.

Chest of drawers attributed to Francois Bernard, Appleton, 1853-1865. Property of Langlade County Historical Society.

The furniture in the Society’s collections reflects the two primary streams of furniture production in 19th- and early 20th-century Wisconsin: factory production and small-shop handcraft. A veneered chest of drawers attributed to the Antigo Furniture Co. and a rocking chair from the Crocker Chair Co. represent the maunfactured furniture turned out by numerous Wisconsin producers. Falling on the handcrafted side is a chest of drawers said to have been made by Francois Bernard, a cabinetmaker who left France for Appleton, Wisconsin in 1853.

Postcard depicting Deleglise cabin, Antigo, ca. 1930. Wisconsin Historical Society WHi-28359

This chest also tells an interesting story of the movement of people and objects over time. Its original owners were Francis Deleglise and his wife Mary Bor, who likely acquired the chest when they married and moved to Appleton in 1856. In 1877, Francis Deleglise surveyed and planned the city of Antigo, bringing his family there from Appleton in 1878. Family history states that the chest served as the altar for the first Catholic mass celebrated in Antigo, which was conducted in the Deleglise cabin in 1880. The chest still furnishes the cabin, which was moved from its original site to the grounds of what is now the Langlade County Historical Society in 1913.

I first got to know Langlade County Historical Society president Joe Hermolin more than a year ago when he partnered with Wisconsin Heritage Online (WHO) to digitize photographs in the Society’s archives produced by A. J. Kingsbury, a professional photographer who worked in the Antigo area in the 1910s and 20s. Some of Kingsbury’s most compelling photos depict Menominee and Ojibwe people in northeast Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Last winter, Joe and I worked with the Tribal Libraries, Archives, and Museums class at UW-Madison’s School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) to research and catalog these images, some of which are now available online. We’re planning to work with the class again this semester to continue to investigate this important collection.

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.